Voltron Force Producers Bob Koplar and Jeremy Corray Interview
Coming this Thursday, November 3, at 8:30 PM, only on Nicktoons (anybody else have it memorized?), you can see an all new episode of Voltron Force (Episode 14: Form Green Center). In honor of this new block of episodes, as a special treat to visitors of ToonBarn, we were extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with Bob Koplar and Jeremy Corray, who are responsible for producing every episode of Voltron Force for World Events Productions.
If you have been following the world of Voltron Force, you would have seen both of these Voltron Ambassadors at San Diego ComicCon at the end of July (the first ever Voltron panel there), and most recently at New York ComicCon just a couple weeks ago. You have enjoyed the first 13 episodes of Voltron Force on Nicktoons, and you’re wildly anticipating the next 13. You have heard about the toy line from Mattel that will keep children of all ages playing as their favorite defender of the universe. You will have the pleasure to play the first Voltron Video Game from THQ, available on PlayStation Network and Xbox Live. You may have even heard about a Voltron feature film to be produced by Chuck Roven’s Atlas Entertainment of “The Dark Knight” fame. What you may NOT have heard is that there is another member of the Voltron Force that is the heart and soul of the whole Voltron franchise.
Both Bob and Jeremy will tell you that Voltron and the Voltron Force would not be where they are today without the terrific support, encouragement, and feedback that fans of both Classic and Current Voltron versions have provided. Back in the 80’s, fans did not have as close contact with the creators of Voltron as they do today. Today, you can communicate with the producers of the show through Twitter, WHILE THE SHOW IS ON, interacting about everything that is happening before your eyes. You can go on the fan forums on Voltron.com and talk about whatever you want, start discussions, or argue about which Voltron is the best. You can go on Facebook to the Voltron fan page and give direct feedback to questions that might be asked, like whether you would be interested in listening to a Voltron Podcast (HECK YEAH!!). With Bob and Jeremy at the helm of Voltron, you can bet there will be plenty of Voltron awesomeness for all fans for many years to come.
Without further adieu, let’s introduce you to the Vice President of World Events Productions and the Executive Producer of Voltron Force, Bob Koplar. Also joining him, the Creative Director of World Events Productions and the Supervising Producer of Voltron Force, Jeremy Corray.
As a father of an 8-year-old son, I would have lost brownie points with him if i didn’t give him an opportunity to ask some questions of his own. So, as always, he gets first dibs. Here are 3 questions from a big fan of Voltron Force, my son, Lucas:
Lucas: Why did Vince have problems with his Voltcom when he first got it, and would it have worked even if he had never met King Alfor?
(Bob) Your son, Lucas, is very astute to have noticed that! As seen in episode 5, “Joyride to Doom”, Vince is finding he has a secret connection to the ancient people who helped create Voltron, so when Lance activated his Voltcom, a surprising jolt of energy short-circuited the system. Whether Vince knows it or not, he is just too powerful and overloaded it.
Lucas: What is up with Maahox’s right eye? Why is it like that, where it can come off his face?
(Jeremy) Ha! Well, as we said, sometimes things that are written into the shows “bible” come through in the design and there is a direct reference to Mahhox experimenting on himself, so it’s safe to assume that the floating eye was a failed experiment, or successful one in multitasking.
Lucas: When can I play with Voltron Force toys, specific to the show?
(Jeremy) Rest assured Lucas, we are hard at work alongside the great designers at Mattel to make sure you have some awesome robot lion toys to play with next year! From what we’ve seen so far, you are going to be very happy. In the meantime, have Dad write Mattel and tell them how excited you are to get your hands on some Voltron Force toys: http://service.mattel.com/us/EmailContact.aspx
Now to my questions:
ToonBarn: 2011 has been a very good year for you guys. St. Louis Cardinals are in the World Series. First ever Voltron panel at San Diego ComicCon, and another surge recently at New York ComicCon. A brand new cartoon series on Nicktoons, where it was the highest rated premiere ever on that channel. Video game, comics, toys, a feature film in the works, and on and on. How are you keeping up with it all, including the fan involvement, which is a cornerstone of the Voltron brand?
(Jeremy) As Bob mentioned, we are indeed a family owned brand, so there is not a vast corporate boardroom where decisions are made, it really is a “Mom and Pop Robot Shop”, as I like to say. I (Jeremy) work alongside Ted Koplar, the man who brought Voltron to the West, and his son Robert, so it’s been a thrilling responsibility to help guide Voltron along and be entrusted to make these crucial creative decisions. Just like original fans share the Voltron experience with their sons, it’s been special to see that happen on the production as well, with Ted and Bob working on the new show together. But yeah, there is a lot of divide-and-conquering going on with Bob’s expertise in the deal-making and business side, while I keep my eye on the production, but what’s great is we get to play on both sides of the brain, as Bob is just as comfortable giving script notes as he is writing deal memos, so it’s been a nice balance. Plus, it makes things easy when we have passionate, motivated partners, who are true fans of the show— from Classic Media to Kickstart to Mattel to THQ to Dynamite to Viz Media and beyond. We are in an incredibly fortunate position to be working with the best in the business.
ToonBarn: Bob, your Dad, Ted, has his origins in St. Louis, and brought Voltron to the US in 1984. How is it that St. Louis – NOT Hollywood, NOT New York, NOT San Francisco – but St. Louis remains the center of the Voltron Universe?
(Bob) My Dad always thought outside of the box. How Voltron came about was kind of a roundabout way. We had a TV station here in St. Louis, KPLR, which was an independent TV station. So, we had to rely on ourselves to go find programming for the station. It was the mid-80’s and programming costs were starting to skyrocket. The idea came about, let’s make our own content. Let’s go see what’s out there that we could possibly bring into the United States. So, it was kind of a hybrid of making our own show, and finding something from the international market. We went abroad and found a show called GoLion at MIPCOM in France. GoLion was an adult-oriented show. it was an anime show with a good amount of violence in it, and things that wouldn’t fly by kids, especially in the United States. So, there was heavy work to be done on the show, in terms of editing the story lines, and obviously, bringing in a great new voice cast. We got John Petersen, our composer, who did just a phenomenal job coming up with that iconic Voltron theme music, and Peter Cullen, you know it, who was our Narrator, before he was Optimus Prime. He did the opening to our show. We really re-made the show (GoLion) into Voltron, a kids show. From St. Louis, we distributed, through syndication, across the United States, and it made it into every major market. From St. Louis, we distributed it worldwide as well, and it made it in most parts of Europe, and Australia, and even back in Asia. Originally, a lot of the work was done in LA, and overseen out of our home office in St. Louis, but LA was where a lot of the voices were, and the writing was done in LA as well. That involved a lot of the shuttling back and forth with my father and some of the executives of World Events Productions back in the 80’s. Jeremy and I have been on a good number of airplanes, but it’s much easier these days to share assets and see what’s going on remotely. We have an FTP site that’s just loaded with fresh stuff every day. we’re seeing new animation almost every day. And what’s great about it, our overseas studio, once they’re finished with the animation, they upload it to the FTP , then they go to bed, and while they’re sleeping, we review the animation, and we can provide them notes, so the first thing they see when they get up in the morning are notes from us. Then they can work on whatever we feel needs changing. It works out pretty well.
(Jeremy) Yeah, look, in 15 minutes or so, we’re going to be talking to our composer, scoring Episode 23. it’s called a spotting session. We’ll sit with him, Hal Beckett, and Steffan Andrews. Through the modern miracle of the Internet, we’re able to both see the same video, and we go through and he says, here’s my thoughts on these kind of tone shifts, and Hal’s been fantastic, some of the themes he’s created. I don’t know if you heard some of the stuff on the “Lion Riders Return” episode, when those Krelshi are coming out, it’s just so exotic. It takes us places, and he does such a brilliant job with it. So, it’s easy with him, and it’s a lot of fun. To say the Internet has changed production is quite an understatement. It is amazing to be in the mid-west and be able to coordinate everything and do traffic control through St. Louis.
ToonBarn: Take us through the life cycle of a typical episode, from start to finish, when we see it on Nicktoons for the first time. What are the steps, processes, where do they take place, who’s involved, and how long does it all take?
(Bob) The process of an episode from script to screen usually takes about a full year all in. Our Story Editor, Todd Garfield, will usually break a story in the Premise stage, which is really just a paragraph describing the story of the episode, and then we go into an Outline, which is a much more detailed description of action and character, that is divided up like into 3 Acts with a Teaser at the front. While that is going on, we will be doing select backgrounds and designs for props or FX in another episode, or Storyboarding on another, as the whole process is a huge staggered game of synchronization that our producer Susan Norkin has become a master at. Once the script is signed off on, we will then record the episode with our fantastic voice cast, and the next thing we will see is an Animatic, which is basically a moving version of the Storyboard that our Director John Delaney will work with our editor Josh Guitar on. The Storyboard stage gives you a great idea of pacing and how certain action scenes or gags are playing, so that is an intense process. From then on, the board is Timed and Tracked and shipped off to actual Production at Toon City, so we might not see actual animation for another 6 months. Another person vital to all this is Heather Puttock, who somehow coordinates all of these events simultaneously, all while staying sweet and sane.
(Jeremy) We’ve learned a lot about modern production techniques, and one of our favorite parts of the process is the guys at Pinewood Sound, up there in Vancouver, Randy Kiss, to me, it really comes to life. You know, you’ll see these episodes, and they are all silent and they’ll have the time code at the top, and the dialogue’s there, but boy, when it’s mixed, it just comes ALIVE. The sounds that he’s (Randy Kiss) been able to come out of the Robot Lions, and the scratching and the clawing, and the weapons, and the lasers, just everything. I don’t care how many times I’ve seen an episode, and believe me, between the scripts, and the outlines, and the animatics, you have to see the same episode at least 30 times, just going through it, at least 30-50 times. There’s nothing better than getting one of the mixed episodes in and it just pops. Certainly, being able to watch it on the air with our families is another trip, to see our names on there, it’s just so funny. And then, to see the internet reaction… we are watching the shows, as you know, while up on our Twitter account(@voltron), monitoring the Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/VoltronOfficial), monitoring anybody, anyone mentioning Voltron. What was so cool was that we trended nationwide that first night, that what’s so funny, for it to all come back full-circle, to have your son ask us a question about Vince and his Voltcom, is so funny. I don’t think I’ll ever quite get used to it. It’s a fantastic way to make a living. It’s demanding in a lot of ways, you know, coordinating all of these assets between the video game company, and the toy company, but it’s nice to never have to have grown up, really.
ToonBarn: Recently, on Twitter, NFL Running Back, and top pick for everyone’s Fantasy Football League, Arian Foster, said that Voltron was greater than Transformers. Talking about the comparisons between Voltron and Transformers, do you feel like you have to compete with Transformers? Is there a rivalry there? Can there really be, if Peter Cullen was the Narrator for the Original Voltron Theme Song before he became Optimus Prime?
(Bob) Yeah, I think there is a world where we co-exist. Between us and Transformers. Obviously, Transformers has had much more exposure. It’s had 3 major motion pictures. It’s had more shows out there, and I think we’re more a bit of the underdog. But, it’s almost like we’re the cool kind of cousin of the Transformers where those celebrity shout-outs are just so amazing. It’s almost surreal, we’re sitting here, hearing about those. I keep thinking to myself, what great promotion this is, because it’s totally free. It’s huge. Like Kobe Bryant, before the last basketball season, was saying how the Miami Heat formed like Voltron, and he said that on ESPN. I was thinking, “OH, MY GOD, Kobe just gave us a shout-out!” It’s really fun and amazing to see. We’ve been sitting here in St. Louis and thinking, how can we harness this energy behind this brand?
(Jeremy) You can’t manufacture the love that people have for Voltron. The images that people get when they recall the theme song from their childhood.
ToonBarn: Yes, Seth Green’s wife, Clare Grant, is a huge Voltron fan.
(Jeremy) Yes, and we’re going to be working with her on a launch of this video game that comes out on November 30th. We’re coordinating right now to work with her and Team Unicorn on a cool event. Yeah, she is the world’s second biggest fan, trumped only by myself. We’ll find out Nov 28th, who the biggest Voltron fan is. Clare is definitely someone we want to do some fun stuff with. What did she say, the agreement with her and Seth is that she can only cheat on Seth with Voltron? Yeah, the one cheat. What was on his list, like She-Ra, or something like that? The time that they did Voltron on Robot Chicken in 2005, with Matt Seinreich, we were able to get that sketch on the DVD, the Original Voltron Series DVD, in the 3D-style tin. The sticker on the front said, “Robot Chicken sketch inside”. That was from our mutual friendship and love of Voltron.
ToonBarn: What surprises are in store for viewers of Voltron Force that will please both fans of the Original Voltron series and the new generation of fans of the new Voltron Force?
(Jeremy) Truly, the best has yet to come when new episodes of Voltron Force start Thursday November 3 at 8:30 PM EST, only on Nicktoons. First off, we are going to see the long-awaited debut of Green Center Voltron, which, as you may have seen in our NYCC reel, has some certain ninja influences on Voltron. And speaking of ninjas, we are going to see on Thurs. Nov.17, my favorite episode of the season so far, “Brains”, in which we visit Pidge’s home planet of Balto, where his people are made up of ninja-scientists and have been infected with Haggarium, turning them into ninja scientist zombies! It’s a great genre-bending episode that has some cool new power ups for Voltron as well.
(Bob) That, and Daniel Powell (Exec Producer of Comedy Central’s Ugly Americans and St. Louis native!) has written a hilarious episode, “Rogue Trip”, where we explore the dark side of Voltron fandom, as a Voltron obsessed character named Dudley tries to eliminate the new cadets once and for all. Finally, yes, around Thanksgiving, we may be indeed seeing the return of the original Blue Lion pilot, Sven, and I wonder if after all these years how he feels about Allura being in the pilot seat of Blue Lion and if we kept the Norwegian accent? But really, the show hits its stride and I know viewers are going to love it. Just be sure to watch it with your kids, as that is the best way to view Voltron Force!
ToonBarn: With the Galaxy Alliance in power and Lotor/Maahox appearing to be the only enemy of Voltron, do any of the character dynamics change, and how?
(Bob) As you noted, the relationship between Lotor and Maahox is an interesting one, and now that Lotor is charging up at full-power, we are going to see him much more on the front lines, taking an active role in destroying the Voltron Force. As for what plans Maahox has in all this, you are going to have to watch and find out. And then, of course, there is the question that Wade has been brought down, but wouldn’t he have to have a fair trial? The threats are only going to rise in the new episodes of Voltron Force, both externally and internally, for the Force.
ToonBarn: How is it that Larmina is Allura’s Niece?
(Jeremy) I had no idea it would be such a sticking point with fans! I thought that the Mullet would get more attention, and the Mullet has gone on to have its own thread on the Forum – Keith’s Mullet. Everybody was like, wait a minute, should we do this? Sure enough, the fans notice. You guys are all on top of it. So yes, at some point, we will explain the Larmina-Allura relationship. I think we have to at this point. LarminaGate, as we’ve been taken to calling it around here in the office.
ToonBarn: While we always have known about Lance’s jealousy over Keith having a better relationship with Allura, will there be any relationships amongst the Cadets, especially Larmina and Daniel?
(Jeremy) Well you know how much kids love the kissy-kissy romance in their action series. Lets just say the relationship between the Cadets themselves, as eluded to in the video, that they might be getting their own awesome vehicle of some kind, and the classic team, you know the tensions, and as all the characters figure out for themselves how these new Cadets fit in, let’s just say that the action and the drama and the interpersonal conflict is going to get ratcheted up, big time.
ToonBarn: We’d really like to know what happened to the Secret Lair plans that the Cadets were showing to Hunk at the end of Hunkyard. Will we get to see what it is on the next round of episodes, or is there anything special the Cadets do on their own?
(Bob) Indeed you can look to episode 15, “Rogue Trip”, airing on Thurs. Nov.10, for some Secret Lair action and there is a reason the Cadets meant it when the line was, “We need you to help us make something awesome.”
(Jeremy) Let’s just say, for the Albegos Fans out there, The Gladiator Voltron, they will have at least something to gnaw on. Yeah, that’s for all those who have been writing in over the years. Next, the Vehicle Voltron fans will revolt until we put Vehicle Voltron in. We ARE hearing everything. We read everything, on the forums and such. And that’s what’s cool with being a “small mom and pop robot shop”, the fans’ feedback really has a direct impact on how we create the show, and granted, a lot of stuff, the lead time is out there, just even anticipating some of them. There’s an episode coming up where we actually use some of the direct quotes from our fans, turning a Facebook fan post into a character who represents kind of the dark side of Voltron Fandom. It gets a little crazy, a little Robot Chicken, heads spinning, but it’s a hilarious episode. St. Louis native, Dan Powell, who is the executive producer on Comedy Central’s Ugly Americans, his episode airs November 10, the one after this one coming up, and it is just somehow hilarious and action-packed and fans are really going to be talking about it. It’s one where we cameoed a little of the classic Voltron model in there, so it will definitely be talked about on the Facebook page. It’s a lot of fun. All kind of a celebration of Voltron across the different generations. It’s going to be one that classic fans won’t want to miss.
ToonBarn: Can you give us a preview of what is taking place in the next episode on Nov 3, Form Green Center? We already know that Green Center forms a Tech Ninja Voltron with a Boomerang Shield for a weapon. What else is going on here?
(Bob) With Wade brought down, the Galaxy Alliance puts on a massive concert to celebrate peace, of which Larmina is put in charge of organizing. But with Lotor out there, this is a perfect stage for the Drule King to spread his message of chaos.
(Jeremy) It’s a really a fun return, with some cool action and music, and an unexpected side-hobby reveal for one of our original characters. Hope you join us on Twitter @Voltron during the live broadcast on Thursday Nov.3 at 8:30 PM EST and we can chat more! Let’s Go Voltron Force!
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